The project “Rockefeller Fellows as Heralds of Globalization” innovates on a number of levels:

  • It combines four different historiographical fields of research: the history of philanthropy, the history of knowledge, the history of elites, and the history of development programs. Past research has rarely crossed the boundaries between these fields, our approach offers a creative and rigorous historical analysis.
  • The project focuses on individuals (the fellows) to offer a different take on the history of globalization, one that studiously avoids teleological interpretations and considers the gaps that exist between global theoretical views – such as that of the RF – and the reality of local situations and individual career paths.
  • It offers a multi-layered analysis by combining a quantitative approach – indispensable for elucidating patterns in fellows’ career paths – with a qualitative one based on case studies compiled using various archives in a select number of countries. The database created for the project will be made available online as an open-source tool for the international research community; it will be hosted on the website of the Rockefeller Archive Center. The database is also designed to be expanded over time and thus used and adapted for further research.

Our primary research tool will be a database of all RF fellows. The Rockefeller fellowship directory contains 9,691 biographical notes on people who were awarded fellowships by the foundation between 1917 and 1970. The fellowship recorder cards conserved at the Rockefeller Archive Center helped us to identify another 6,955 fellowships. During our team visit at the Rockefeller Archive Center this June, some archival materials evidenced the existence of more than 600 fellowships without a fellowship recorder card. This will be tackled in the following years of the project.

These fellowships (and scholarships) were an individual monetary grant lasting from 6 months to 3 years, allowing grantees to study outside their country of origin by paying for their living and working expenses. The Rockefeller fellows came from 88 countries on five continents and went to 56 countries during their fellowships. Western countries, especially the US, were the most frequent destinations.

The research project is structured chronologically and covers the period 1920-1970 in order to highlight possible continuities between then interwar years and the post-1945 period.

Aims of the project

The first main theme of this research is to study the Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship Program, its aims and objectives, its administrative organization and its day-to-day functioning. We will not limit ourselves to conducting a purely administrative and institutional history. We will seek to analyze the web of interpersonal relations on a worldwide scale, as created and organized by the Rockefeller Foundation, in order to write a transnational history of the program. The study of scholarship programs is an emerging field, and our research intends to serve as a methodological reference for further research on other programs. It is also important to mention that the RFP itself became a model for subsequent fellowship programs, in particular the Fulbright Program and the programs of organizations in the United Nations system.

The second issue we plan to focus on is the emergence of global knowledge, that is, knowledge that tries to encompass worldwide issues of the time. From the beginning of the 20th century onwards, the worldwide nature of many economic, social or political problems had become a reality, resulting from the growing interdependency of different parts of the world. But there were not yet instruments to conceptualize this process. The Rockefeller Foundation was one of the primary organizations (along with think tanks and international organizations) that tried to conceptualize such knowledge. Since its creation in 1913, the foundation’s ambition was to acquire a worldwide vision in its diverse fields of activity in order to help solve problems. This ambition continued after the Second World War and continues today. Our research project aims to unpack this quite obsessive idea – which formed the basis of the Rockefeller policy – and understand how it evolved from the 1920s to the 1970s by analyzing the fields of study identified (or in a sense created) by Rockefeller officers, the types of fellows selected, and the types of fellows rejected.

The third major theme of this project is the study of practices of modernization in the fellows’ home countries. It is worth remembering that the epistemological and political boundaries between development and modernization are artificial. These were (and still are) ideologically and politically loaded terms. They were sometimes used interchangeably. In our research, we will investigate the rationale behind how fellows were selected. Our hypothesis is that they were not selected exclusively based on their academic skills, and that further determining criteria were used.


Our methodology approach uses mixed methods. It combines a systematic and quantitative approach based on the database with a qualitative perspective achieved by focusing on individual and collective trajectories over the long term. Scholars have used various methods in studying elites: prosopography, network analysis, multiple correspondence analysis and sequence analysis. In this project, we propose to intertwine prosopography, network analysis, multiple correspondence analysis and sequence analysis. This combination represents an innovative use of these methods, particularly the last three; such approach has rarely been adopted by historians.

Our methodology uses mixed methods. It combines a systematic and quantitative approach based on the database with a qualitative one based upon focusing on individual and collective trajectories over the long term. Our methodology focuses on the local and individual scales promoted by microhistorians with a global history approach.